I keep hearing about Catholic guilt. What is it? Apparently it’s something Roman Catholics (even lapsed ones) can’t shake off. However, I have never had it. Even when I was in the thick of being RC. Perhaps I never was truly RC. Perhaps I was ‘doomed’ from the start to fail at it, and to leave the church.
But, is guilt good? It doesn’t seem to prevent anyone from doing ‘bad’ stuff, just makes them feel awfully bad before, during and after it. And then, it’s not like it stops them from repeating their mistakes either. So, as it’s not even a deterrent I see it as a hindrance and inconvenience and so, pretty useless.
Guilt is simply the awareness of wrongdoing. If you are RC (or were), it seems like you are trained, from the cradle, to feel guilty about every damned thing. Apparently, the religion makes you feel like every human action is potentially sinful. Or fills you up with such an extreme sense of human imperfection that simply to ‘be’ is to feel guilty.
I confess to almighty God
And to you, my brothers and sisters,
That I have sinned through
My own fault,
In my thoughts and in my words,
In what I have done,
And in what I have failed to do;
And I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
All the Angels and Saints,
And you, my brothers and sisters,
To pray for me to the Lord, our God.
Above is the Penitential Rite, which is said at the beginning of the Holy Mass, after the Priest and the congregation greet one another. It’s a confession of guilt — pretty much a declaration of a permanent state of sin, in thoughts and words, through what one has done and what one hasn’t done — and a request for Mary, the angels, saints, the priest and the congregation to pray to God for forgiveness, for you.
Back when I was still attending mass, that was the prayer, but there has been an extra line for some years now (if I’m not mistaken, since November 2011) between the declaration of wrongdoing and the request for prayer: ‘Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault’. Just in case, it wasn’t clear the first time, ‘It’s all my fault, dammit!’
(The Church obviously feels that to be penitent is not enough, everyone should be miserable to boot!)
I don’t subscribe to dwelling on one’s ‘sins’ or faults or whatever you want to call them (one blogger talks about how the line ‘through my fault etc’ ‘accentuates our sinfulness’). Deal with them as quickly as possible — fix them as best you can, accept them, embrace them even — and move on. Do not carry them around with you as they will make you drag your feet, or stumble or even give up altogether.
And it’s not like I know better, or am so good at living my best life. Perhaps I am just an amoral monster, or in denial. Whatever the case, guilt is not something I’ve ever chosen to engage with. The word is so negative — doesn’t it makes you want to give up before you even start?
To be human is to be ‘imperfect’, but imperfection is not bad, simply natural. I choose not to think of myself as sinful or flawed: I am just myself, a work in progress, and I am aware that my actions will sometimes cause problems for myself and others. Shit happens. We wipe it clean, it may happen again, or not.
No guilt. It’s a waste of time and energy. No guilt, only effort to try again.